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January 17, 2021

The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

Modi faces no political costs for suffering he causes. He’s just like Iran’s Ali Khamenei

If he was a normal politician, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity would have reached its nadir by now. Two out of three working Indians, according to a survey, have lost their jobs owing to the ham-fisted lockdown he declared on 24 March. The government has failed spectacularly to address a migrant crisis festering for over two months. Half of Indian households have reduced their number of meals since the lockdown. Yet, astonishingly, there seems to be no anger with Modi, who seems as popular as ever.

It astounds many that when Modi addressed the nation on 12 May, he didn’t acknowledge the migrant crisis even once, let alone offer empathy. He didn’t acknowledge the unprecedented loss of jobs, chronic shortage of essentials, nor the atmosphere of sheer desperation. Just like he didn’t acknowledge the massive destruction to livelihoods caused by demonetisation in 2016, a disaster no other political leader would have survived.

How does Modi face no political costs for the suffering he, in large part, causes? And how does he not come across as arrogant, out of touch, or simply cruel to most people, even as he consciously ignores their suffering?

Modi confounds normal political analysis because his appeal isn’t merely political. The appeal of Modi is quasi-religious, that of a messianic figure. Like M.K. Gandhi, Modi represents what political scientist Morris Jones referred to as the ‘saintly idiom’ of Indian politics. He is the self-described ‘fakir’, unattached to family and material possessions, who is here to lead India not just politically, but also socially, morally and spiritually. This is why he generates not mere following, but devotion. And this devotion is immune to the performance of the government he leads.

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